Today’s poetry writing exercise comes from my book 101 Creative Writing Exercises.
The exercises in this book encourage you to experiment with different forms and genres while providing inspiration for publishable projects and imparting useful writing techniques that make your writing more robust.
This exercise is from “Chapter 8: Free Verse.” It’s titled “Cut-and-Paste Poetry.” Enjoy! Read more
Some academics argue that poetry is an intellectual pursuit, but that’s only partially true. Poetry is also artistic and emotional. Anyone can enjoy poetry, but studying it closely will help you better appreciate its nuances.
Learning various poetry writing techniques and literary devices (which are often taught in the context of poetry) can bring your writing to a more sophisticated level.
Whether you write fiction, memoirs, or blog posts, reading and writing poetry will equip you with language skills that make your writing stronger, more vivid, and more compelling. Read more
“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” ― Robert Frost
Emotions are fickle. Sometimes they’re clear and brilliant: we’re happy, sad, frustrated, or angry. But emotions can also be complicated, layered, and conflicting. Sure, we’re happy, but we’re also kind of annoyed about something. We’re sad, but we also have something to be glad about. When emotions are textured and gritty, they are difficult to describe. Read more
Accomplished writers respect the rules of grammar the way an acrobat respects the tightrope — grammar might be intimidating and complicated, but we need it in order to perform.
Yet sometimes, an acrobat takes her foot off the tightrope. She does a flip or some other trick of physical prowess that seems to defy the laws of gravity and exceed the potential of the human body.
Grammar rules lend structure and clarity to our writing and gives us common ground rules that we can use to communicate clearly and effectively, just like the tightrope gives the acrobat a foundation upon which to walk.
So when does a writer take her foot off the rules of grammar so she can perform spectacular tricks?
Good Grammar in Poetry Writing
I’m often asked by writers and poets how they should handle grammar, capitalization, and punctuation in poetry. When it comes to grammar rules, is poetry writing the exception?
Many poets demonstrate grammatical expertise, neatly parking periods and commas in their designated spaces and paying homage to proper capitalization.
Consider the following poem and how it follows the rules of grammar. Note that in poetry writing, the traditional rule is that the first letter of each line is capitalized regardless of whether or not it starts a new sentence.
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
By Adrienne Rich
Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
Aunt Jennifer’s finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.
Writing Poetry Without Grammar Rules
Poets don’t always follow the rules, which is why poetry is attractive to writers who are especially creative, rebellious, and enjoy coloring outside the lines.
Grammar rules, particularly spelling and punctuation, are nothing more than a creative tool for poets who choose to dismiss the rules altogether or use the them to decorate and add aesthetic elements to a poem.
Many poets have skirted grammar with great success. Many more have failed. E.E. Cummings is well known for giving grammar the proverbial finger, but he takes his anarchy one step further and actually alters basic sentence structure, and manages to do so quite effectively.
anyone lived in a pretty how town
By ee cummings
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream
stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was
all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
Cummings has dismissed capital letters altogether and he uses punctuation seemingly at random. Yet the poem works. Imagine it with the proper grammar rules applied and you’ll quickly realize that his way is more effective for this piece and what he’s trying to accomplish with language.
Poetry Writing – Where Rules and Creativity Cooperate or Collide
As the poetry canon grows beyond measure, poets increasingly reach for creative devices to make their work stand out.
Toying with grammar rules is one such device, but it is not something that can be approached carelessly. If you choose to forgo the rules because you don’t know them rather than as a creative technique, your lack of knowledge will show and the poem will present as amateurish. Of course, that’s true for all types of writing: learn the rules, and only after you have learned them, go ahead and break them.
I salute anyone who breaks the rules in the interest of art and great poetry writing just as much as I admire poets who craft meter and verse within the confines of grammar. So for this language-loving poet, either way is the right way. Walk the tight rope or jump from it and see if you can fly.
What are your thoughts on applying grammar rules to poetry writing? Are you a stickler for good grammar, even in your creative or experimental work, or do you like to bend and break the rules? Share your thoughts in the comments.
In the world of writing, one form stands out as different from all the rest: poetry.
Poetry is not bound by the constraints of sentence and paragraph structure, context, or even grammar.
In the magical world of poetry, you can throw all the rules out the window and create a piece of art, something that is entirely unique.
That doesn’t mean writing poetry is creatively easy. It can be much more difficult to make a poem than it is to write an essay or piece of fiction. There’s so much creative space, and without any limitations whatsoever, it can be overwhelming.
Yet poetry brings a great bounty of writerly skills and tools, and many of these will spill over into other writing forms, sprinkling them with just a little of the magic that is poetry. And while poetry might not be your favorite form of writing, reading poetry, poetry exercises, and poetry writing are fun and creative methods for improving your writing in any other form or genre.
Improving Your Writing
What is it about poetry that makes your writing better?
While other creative writing forms may use vivid imagery to create pictures in the reader’s mind, no other form comes close to what can be achieved with imagery in poetry writing.
Most writing forms attempt to explain something — a scene, a situation, an idea, a set of instructions, an experience. Poetry doesn’t bother to explain. It shows. It paints a picture and pulls you into it.
In a poetry workshop, you will hear this over and over: show, don’t tell. When you master the art of showing readers an idea through imagery, you can easily apply the concept to your other writing, creating work that comes alive in a reader’s mind.
Language, Word Choice, and Vocabulary
A poet’s vocabulary is paramount. Of course, language is essential to all types of writing, but in poetry, words must be selected carefully in order to generate a visceral response from the reader. In fiction, readers connect emotionally with characters and their plights. We get to know the characters, understand them, and we come to relate to them or even think of them as friends (or enemies).
Characters rarely appear in poetry, so instead of using the emotional connection forged between people, a writer must grab the reader’s heart by appealing to their senses, using words and images that make readers feel. This is achieved by learning how to use language that evokes emotions without telling readers what they should be feeling.
The meaning of each word in a poem must be weighed carefully. Connotations can mean the difference between a poem with depth and a poem that feels flat.
Finally, every single word must be necessary to the poem. Therefore, poetry teaches writers how to be economical with language.
A poet must be constantly aware of meter and rhythm. Poems and song lyrics are often compared, confused, and intermingled, and with good reason. Both poetry and music must pay attention to cadence and melody.
Think about how you feel when you hear a particular piece of music. You tap your feet, shake your hips, bang your head. Our bodies respond physically to music.
Through poetry writing comes a natural ability to marry musicality with language. When this musicality is brought to other forms of writing, readers feel it in their bones and muscles. They will have a physical reaction.
The Practice and Study of Poetry Results in Better Writing
Writing is about connecting with readers. And poetry writing helps you develop skills for connecting with readers mentally (language), emotionally (images), and physically (rhythm). Many young and new writers are impatient with poetry. They were forced to read archaic poems in school and came away with a bad taste for poetry. But poetry is like music; there’s something for everyone. Look around a little and you’ll find a poet whose work speaks to you.
If you’re interested in exploring poetry and using it to improve your writing, start by checking out these accessible resources:
- Poem of the Day (podcast): Packed with classic and contemporary poems, each piece is only a minute or two in length. Save the ones you like and listen to them over and over again. Tip: you can subscribe via iTunes.
- IndieFeed: Performance Poetry (podcast): Today’s poets are cutting the edge with poetry that speaks to the 21st century. From humor to heartbreak, these poets write out loud. Most pieces are under ten minutes, and the podcast updates a few times each week.
- Poetry Foundation: Once you whet your appetite, dig in and find out what’s going on in the world of poetry. The Poetry Foundation is dedicated to the craft of poetry and includes lots of great poems, poets, and other poetry related resources.
Improving your writing through the practice and study of poetry forces you to whip out your magnifying glass and look at your writing up close. Whether you apply poetic concepts to fiction, blogging, or article writing, your engagement with poetry will help you produce better writing.
If your writing is good today, it can be great tomorrow.
Have you ever dabbled in poetry and noticed how it affected your fiction or creative nonfiction? Have you tried improving your writing through poetry? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
If you’re going to exercise, it’s a good idea to warm up first. That way, you’ll get your body geared up to do the heavy lifting, the hard running, and the strenuous workout.
Writing’s no different.
Poetry writing exercises are ideal when you’re feeling uninspired or lazy, or maybe your poetry is getting stale and you need to take it in a fresh direction. Perhaps you’re getting ready to embark on a big, long writing project and want to warm up first.
Today’s poetry writing exercises are good starters and don’t require you to know anything about poetry or have any experience writing poems. In fact some of these exercises don’t require any poetry writing whatsoever.
Poetry Writing Exercises
These poetry writing exercises are designed to get you thinking about rhythm, language, and imagery in your writing. Let’s jump right in!
1. Alliteration and Assonance Lists
Create a list of word pairs and phrases that are built around alliteration or assonance. Remember, alliteration is when words in close proximity start with (or contain) the same consonant sound (as in pretty picture). Assonance is when words in close proximity echo vowel sounds (bent pen). Try to come up with at least ten of each. The more, the better.
Bonus exercise: Use the words from your lists to write a poem.
2. Metaphors and Similes for Life
Make a list of significant life events: birth, death, graduation, marriage, having children, starting your own business. Next, come up with one metaphor and one simile for each of these events. Remember, a metaphor is when we say one thing is another thing. A simile is when we say one thing is like another thing.
Metaphor: Life is a dance.
Simile: Life is like a box of chocolates (as a metaphor, this would be life is a box of chocolates).
Tip: Choose metaphors that are visually interesting. Metaphors for life as a dance or similes stating that life is like a box of chocolates are both easy for readers to visualize.
Bonus exercise: Write a poem about one of your life events using only the metaphor or simile you have chosen. When it’s done, your poem should be a bit ambiguous; a reader will wonder whether the poem is literally about the metaphor or metaphorically about the life event.
3. Lyrics and Musicality
Choose a catchy song that you enjoy and rewrite the lyrics, but stick to the rhythm and meter. Try to go way off topic from what the original lyrics were about. You can play the song while you work on the exercise or search for the lyrics online and use those as your baseline. The idea is to get your mind on the musicality in your writing.
Have Fun with These Poetry Writing Exercises!
These poetry writing exercises are meant to be helpful and fun. If you tried any of these exercises, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Did you learn anything? Did you end up writing a poem?
Do you have any poetry writing exercises to share? Leave a comment!
Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
This is one of my favorite writing resources of all time. It is subtitled “An Introduction to Poetry,” but it’s full of concepts that can benefit any form of writing.
Whether you write fiction, articles, essays, or blog posts, Perrine’s Sound and Sense will enhance the way you perceive and use language to communicate an idea, a scene, or information.
After all, language is a writer’s medium. How do we choose words and string them together? What makes one sentence so vivid while another is practically impossible to visualize? How can we play with the meaning of words in a way that is meaningful? How do we craft prose that is musical?
These, of course, are questions that poetry actively asks and explores. Storytellers spend a lot of time on plot and character. Article writers spend a lot of time on research. Bloggers spend a lot of time under the hood. Poets live and breathe in language.
And language — or rather, a writer’s use of it — is what elevates a piece of ordinary prose to something regal. Through a light study of poetry, you will expand your vocabulary, learn simple techniques to make images out of words, and understand the deeper secrets of language — secrets that make your writing extraordinary.
Perrine’s Sound and Sense
This book is a delightful and comprehensive romp through the intricacies of poetry and language. It’s a perfect introduction to poetry because it’s liberally populated with fantastic poems that will satisfy a range of personal tastes and preferences, making it a veritable anthology that teaches concepts alongside each poem (or that uses poems to beautifully illustrate and illuminate various concepts).
Sound and Sense starts with the basics. The first two chapters are respectively titled “What is Poetry?” and “Reading a Poem.” If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss was about poetry and why so many successful writers advocate poetry, these chapters will show you the light, both through their discussion of poetry and presentation of poems.
Later chapters deal with increasingly complex concepts. These concepts are taught in the context of how they are applied to poetry but they are applicable to any kind of writing. The chapter on “Denotation and Connotation” explains how we choose words based on their meaning, particularly when we can choose between two (or more) words with the same meaning:
The words childlike and childish both mean “characteristic of a child,” but childlike suggests meekness, innocence, and wide-eyed wonder, while childish suggests pettiness, willfulness, and temper tantrums. (p. 41)
We’ve all heard that imagery is critical to our writing, but many writers don’t quite understand what show, don’t tell actually means. Master writers refer to similes, metaphors, symbols, and allegories, all effective literary devices in any form. Sound and Sense helps you understand the importance of these devices, shows you how to identify them in a piece of writing, and therefore gives you the knowledge you need to apply those devices in your own work.
The insight doesn’t stop with meaning and literary devices. The book goes on to explore tone and dedicates a significant portion of its final chapters to musicality with chapters such as “Musical Devices,” “Rhythm and Meter,” and “Sound and Meaning.”
Everything that we do naturally and gracefully we do rhythmically. There is rhythm in the way we walk, the way we swim, the way we ride a horse, the way we swing a golf club or a baseball bat. So native is rhythm to us that we read it, when we can, into the mechanical world around us. Our clocks go tick-tick-tick but we hear tick-tock, tick-tock. (p. 187)
So if you’ve ever wondered how to make your writing sing and dance, if you’ve ever gotten a phrase stuck in your head and wondered what made it so catchy and then wondered how you could craft writing that is just as memorable, this book is for you.
Sound and Sense features tons of wonderful poems by some of the best known and loved poets of all time, including Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Andrew Marvell, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Sexton, Shakespeare, and far too many others to list here.
And it’s all capped off with a handy glossary and comprehensive index, which makes revisiting its contents quick and easy. I’m telling you, this is a resourceful little book!
This gem of a book doubles as an anthology of poetry and is useful for both readers and writers of poetry. But writers of all forms will reap great benefits by investing in this book.
Mostly used as a college textbook, it’s loaded with treasures packed in a dense landscape of writing concepts, some of which are practical and others that are whimsical, plus a bunch of writing concepts that are just plain magical.
Sound and Sense will transform the way you think about writing and will improve your writing at the levels of words and sentences, sounds and phrases. Want to make readers hungry? Want to make them think and feel and swoon and dance? Then get this book, because it shows you how to do just that.
Got any writing resources that you’d like to recommend? Do you find that studying one form helps you improve another? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment. And keep on writing!
Throughout the centuries, poets have composed meditations on seasons, landscapes, and constellations. Vegetation and animals have been the subjects of countless poems, and even when poetry is not centered around nature, it often makes references to it.
In poetry, nature may function as the backdrop — the setting in which the action takes place. Nature and various elements of nature may also hold center stage. Why are so many poets compelled to write about nature?
Consider the closing stanza from “Crossings” by Ravi Shankar:
Suspended in this ephemeral moment
after leaving a forest, before entering
a field, the nature of reality is revealed.
Words like forest and field hint at nature’s presence in this piece, but the closing line cleverly reminds us that nature is not present in individual words. Nature is reality, and it’s everywhere, all the time.
Poetry prompts are a great way to start a writing session when you’re feeling uninspired or when you simply want to try something new. Maybe you’ve never written a poem before. Maybe you’ve never written about nature. Maybe you’ve never tackled a writing exercise. Whatever your reason, these poetry prompts are meant to provide loose guidelines for kick-starting your creativity and get you pushing your pen across the page.
Below you’ll find a list of words that relate to nature. These words are your poetry prompts. You can use these prompts in several different ways. You can choose a single word and build a poem around it as a topic. You can choose a handful of words (about five would be good) and use those words to kick off different lines or verses. Or you can challenge yourself to write a single poem with all of the words included in it.
As you read through the list and choose which words will act as prompts for your poem, relax. Engage your imagination and visualize different images that these words might describe. Build actions with them. String them together with words from your own vocabulary. Put them in lines and verses. And make a poem.
If you have any ideas or suggestions for poetry prompts, share your thoughts by leaving a comment. And keep writing!
When I read Mina Loy’s description of poetry as “prose bewitched,” I felt like someone had captured the true essence of poetry for the first time.
We often struggle to define abstract or obtuse concepts. One of the greatest and most challenging questions of all time is, what is art? Although dictionaries attempt to define art, no definition quite captures its essence, so artists and thinkers have tried to define art in their own words for centuries.
Like art, the definition of poetry has been explored by writers, thinkers, artists, and poets themselves. So what is it? What is poetry?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary gives us plenty of definitions for the word poetry:
- the writings of a poet : poems
- something that is very beautiful or graceful
- metrical writing : verse
- writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm
- something likened to poetry especially in beauty of expression
With all due respect to Merriam-Webster, I don’t think any of these definitions do poetry justice or truly convey an answer to the question, what is poetry?
I thought I’d take a stab at defining poetry:
Poetry is a linguistic art form that can be written, spoken, or performed. It focuses on the aesthetics of language. It is often composed in verse as opposed to prose and is more concerned with evoking an image or emotion (or both) over clearly communicating a thought or idea. Poetry makes liberal use of literary devices, such as alliteration and metaphor. It is the musicality of language, the rendering of abstract thoughts, ideas, and emotions, rendered with words and sounds. It is pictures painted with words.
As you can see, I can’t capture the essence of poetry any better than a dictionary. Poetry is all of these things and none of these things. There’s a magic in poetry that is difficult to describe in words, even though poetry itself often uses words to create magic.
What is Poetry?
I think we need poetry itself in order to truly convey what poetry is. Mina Loy said it well, so let’s revisit her explanation of poetry:
“Poetry is prose bewitched, a music made of visual thoughts, the sound of an idea.” — Mina Loy.
Do you ever write poetry? Which poems and poets are your favorites? How would you answer the question, what is poetry? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment, and keep writing poetry!
Poetry is the music of language, the fine art of the written word. It demands a broad vocabulary and creative thinking. It promotes rhythm and meter, and it invites imagery. Poetry triggers the imagination, engages the intellect, and touches the heart.
Reading and writing poetry are excellent practices for any writer. Through poetry, we learn the nuances of language, the power of showing rather than telling, and the necessity for clear and succinct wordcraft.
Basically, poetry reading and writing improves all other writing.
So, whether you are a poet or not, as a writer, a basic understanding of poetry will improve your writing exponentially. Can you succeed without it? Of course. But with poetry skills in your writer’s toolbox, your writing will soar. Read more